top of page

China - a “Leader and Convener” of Climate Action?

China now finds itself as “leader and convener” of climate action. As the Paris climate summit edged closer, international leaders had an air of optimism surrounding the upcoming climate negotiations. Part of such optimism spurred from the belief that these negotiations would see China, and President Xi Jinping, at the helm. What a clear departure from the failure of Copenhagen, where blame and reluctance characterised China's climate stance.

So, why is it now that the international community is looking to the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases for a climate solution?

Xi categorised COP21 as a “new starting point” for climate negotiations. He has successfully injected hope into an otherwise hopeless environment. This has all been enabled through China's active engagement with a transformative economic model, incorporating climate policies and projections. Building up to COP21, China's environmental pledges confirmed their growing climate policies. These included the implementation of a carbon emissions trading scheme by 2017, and attaining their zero emissions target by 2030.

Western leaders have been allured by China's innovative and ecological models. Six years ago, the West was attempting to carry China into an era of climate awareness. Now, the West is, seemingly, needing to keep up with China. Last year alone, China beat both the European Union and United States with their renewable energy investments – investing a surprising A$115 billion, whilst currently accounting for one in every three wind turbines worldwide.

It is thus clear that China has secured a significant political and economic pivot. They have welcomed a national pivot towards domestic, ecological consumption that moves beyond their past coal dependencies. Their current, and upcoming, Five Year Plan demonstrates a willingness to engage in meaningful climate discourse – a discourse which urges both developmental and environmental health and prosperity.

Yet, on this note, it is integral to identify that China's pivot has not been domestically encouraged as a type of climate altruism. Their top climate negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, has stated that China will continue to consider the necessities to maintain their upwards development trajectory, and take the according climate action. Xie emphasises that the livelihood of their economy and citizens, alleviating the masses from poverty, must be of primary concern for the State. It simply demonstrates that the complexities of ongoing political climate dialogue must consider this developed-developing global dichotomy.

During the Paris climate summit, Xi echoed this sentiment of development, whereby it must be the responsibility of the developed to “shoulder” climate responsibilities. But, this simply exemplifies that China's changing climate action is not one that should be celebrated as a win for the global environment – it is a win for the future of China's “ecologically driven wealth generation”.

Now, one may say that any climate action that reduces greenhouse gas emissions is productive and necessary. Yet, it is a premature global applause for China. It seems that the West's love affair with a post-Copenhagen, 'green' China has led to a suspension of criticism – just ask Tibetan activists if they reciprocate the West's inspiration.

As global rallies coordinated international action prior to COP21, Tibetan activists demonstrated for global climate awareness and action for Tibet. Indeed, China's move towards renewable energy is necessary. Yet, their proliferating hydropower dam projects are causing environmental concerns for others; and this sets a concerning future for Tibetans. Their protest was one that aimed at demonstrating the risks of water security that Tibet, and other downstream countries like India, are and will continue to face as a result of China's hydropower ambitions.

China's climate policies are those that, arguably, do not consider wider environmental implications that exist beyond the prospect of environmentally developed economic opportunities and success.

Yes, let's applause China. A China that may have maintained the reluctance and apprehension of Copenhagen would have been a leader for climate failure. But, if China is to be seen as a true climate leader, they must acknowledge sustainable environments and climates through a global, rather than domestic economic, perspective.

Angie Sassano is currently finishing her Arts degree at Australian Catholic University, majoring in politics and history. She has an interest in foreign policy, Chinese politics, and democratic theories.

This article can be republished with attribution under a Creative Commons Licence. Please email with any questions or for more information.

Image Credit: Han Jun Zeng (cropped) (Flickr: Creative Commons)

bottom of page